Modern mythologies

Monday 16th July 2012

MYTH: a traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces; a sacred narrative, fable or legend; a commonly-held belief that isn’t true – definitions courtesy of several respected works of reference.

We are, I believe, rapidly approaching a crucial point in history.

The arguments presented in Our Final Century – by Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal – are impossible to ignore. Take your pick from global warming, economic meltdown, fanatical terrorism, nuclear fall-out, warfare, or unstoppable virus: either biological, killing anyone not naturally immune, or digital, demolishing the built-on-sand, office-blocks-of-cards infrastructures of modern life.

To deny the likelihood of an impending catastrophe would be like me claiming that smoking isn’t harmful.

Which brings me to escapism: seen by Marx and Wells as an opiate, by Tolkien as emancipating, and by Bloch as an ‘honest substitute for revolution’.

Does it matter that we are drawn to the fantasy worlds of Eastenders, The Dark Knight Rises, or Fifty Shades of Grey? if we hide under duvets when flood or famine assails others? if we hail athletes as ‘heroes’ or ‘legends’ from the comfort of our armchairs?

Humankind has always created – possibly even needed – idols: from the god of the mountain to the goal-scorer; from martyrs to monsters; from the Madonna to Madonna. Adoration of individuals, real or imagined, seems to me relatively harmless.

However… what concerns me is not so much our apathy, but the debilitating power of perceptions.

Today’s mythologies are more abstract, more subtle. And they feed on fear: what we earn; how we look; our social standing; security for our children and personal property.

The problem with worshipping the (almost supernatural) forces of technology, status, material possessions and – above all – money, is what will become of us when these ‘commonly-held beliefs’ turn out to be no longer true, but merely false gods to whom we may well end up sacrificing everything.







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3 Responses to Modern mythologies

  1. Niall O'Sullivan says:

    Great blog!

    I would go further and say that rather than categorising a myth as something untrue, it is the opposite. Mythology is the ultimate source of truth itself, which is separate to reality. With modern physics, reality is a mesh of cross crossing possibilities and superpositions, a far cry from the old solid Classical Newtonian model. Mythologies are the pre existing models that allow us to bring all of these bustling factoids together into a compelling narrative.

    Even the threats of extinction and catastrophe have a mythological basis. Yes, they are of course facts, but it is because we have faced this very idea countless times through fiction and mythology that its actuality becomes so compelling.

  2. Alex Barzdo says:

    So, are you saying that smoking is harmful?

  3. Rick Vick says:

    And what about the subtle- or not so- introduction of troops, fresh from Afghanistan, onto our London, Weymouth etc streets for the Olympics. And the missiles on tower blocks. People are muttering. Shakespeare would already be scribbling.

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